The horse’s lower leg anatomy is fascinating and complex. Essential to movement and performance, it’s useful to understand how the horse’s lower leg is put together. This blog article provides a brief outline of horse leg anatomy. It explains how the parts of the horse’s lower leg work together and why cooling down after exercise is so important.
There Are No Muscles in the Lower Leg
The first thing to know about the anatomy of the horse’s leg is that there are no muscles below the carpal / tarsal bones! This means the lower leg is lighter, giving the horse more speed and stamina. The muscles used to move the lower leg are situated above the knee or hock, and they move the joints in the lower leg via the tendons. Whilst this has made the horse a good flight animal, allowing it to escape predators in the wild, it does mean that the tendons in the lower leg bear a great deal of force – and that’s before you add tack and a rider!
Horse Leg Anatomy: Tendons in the Lower Leg
Tendons attach muscles to bone, enabling the horse’s lower leg to move as the corresponding muscles contract and relax. The tendons in the horse’s lower leg, along with their parent muscles, are categorised into flexors and extensors.
The flexor tendons, including the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) and the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT), along with their parent muscles, allow the joints to close. The flexor tendons, along with the suspensory ligament, are used as the horse bears weight on the leg. They then recoil as the horse lifts the weight off the leg.
Meanwhile, the extensor tendons, including the common digital extensor tendon and the lateral digital extensor tendon and their parent muscles, allow the joint to open. Extensor tendons extend the joint (hence the name) and help bring it forward as the horse moves.
These soft tissues all work together to help the horse move.
Horse Leg Anatomy: Ligaments in the Lower Leg
The main ligaments in the lower leg are the suspensory ligament, check ligament and annular ligament. The ligaments help to prevent excessive strain on the tendons. They also help to support the tendons, attach tendons to bones and support the tendons and other structures.
Horse Tendon Injuries
As mentioned earlier, the flexor tendons bear more weight and come under greater strain as the horse moves. When you add in a rider, fast work, jumping, turning, hard, soft and undulating ground and slips or trips, it’s easy to see how tendon injuries occur. It also helps to explain why the SDFT, DDFT, check ligament and suspensory ligament are more prone to damage.
The Impact of Excessive Heat on the Horse’s Soft Tissues
Another major contributor to lower leg soft tissue injuries is excessive heat. As the tendons stretch and recoil, they heat up. The buildup of heat increases during fast work, and the use of boots and bandages insulates the leg. This prevents the heat from escaping and causes the soft tissues to heat up even more. Excessive heat buildup can contribute to micro damage or micro trauma, which can ultimately result in a tear.
This is why it’s so important to cool the horse’s lower legs after exercise. Remember that the horse’s lower leg anatomy is not best designed to bear the weight of the horse, rider and tack at speed over jumps and around tight turns for prolonged periods. Therefore, we must take steps to help the horse’s body cope with the demands we place on it.
Use Cryochaps Ice Boots to Enhance Your Horse’s Cool Down
Using Cryochaps after exercise helps take the heat out of the lower leg faster than cold hosing. This helps to accelerate healing, which allows your horse to perform at his best. Our horse leg wraps come in two designs: the K2F for knee to fetlock coverage, and the Absolute Wrap for knees, hocks and pasterns. Our equine ice boots are ideal for using after exercise or after injury and can be easily transported using the Cryochaps cool bag.